A new law has made driving while holding a phone illegal in the state of Virginia.
Starting January 1st, 2021, drivers seen with a phone in their hand while driving in Virginia are subject to a $125 fine on the first offense and $250 for the second offense.
The bill was sponsored by Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell and Virginia State Delegate Jeffrey Bourne, who say distracted driving legislation in Virginia has been evolving since 2007.
In 2007, a law was passed making entering numbers or letters into a phone while driving a secondary offense, meaning they can be changed for it only if they were pulled over for some other reason; but the law had its issues.
“Police in Virginia basically just weren’t writing it up,” Surovell said to WUSA 9 News. “Because it’s impossible to show what somebody was doing with that phone in their hand. It was actually technically legal to chase Pokémon while driving or look at Facebook while driving.”
Then, in 2011, Surovell was approached by a family whose son was killed by a distracted truck driver, and he knew he had to get the law changed further.
Remember… January 1… holding a phone while driving will become illegal in Virginia. First-time offenders will receive a $125 fine. VA Sen. @ssurovell pushed for the law in Richmond. (@wusa9) pic.twitter.com/QSKyzJ3jSQ— John Henry (@JohnHenryWUSA) December 31, 2020
Surovell’s experience, paired with the efforts of Christina Dempsey, whose sister, in-law, and niece were killed by another distracted truck driver, inspiring Dempsy to found “3 Ribbons for 3 Reasons,” a group aimed at getting distracted driving legislation implemented, led to the clear-cut law that will go into effect on the 1st.
Janet Brooking, executive director of traffic safety awareness non-profit organization Drive Smart Virginia, said the new law is clear cut.
“It doesn’t leave a lot of room for misinterpretation,” said Janet Brooking, executive director of traffic safety awareness non-profit organization Drive Smart Virginia.
“Either you’re holding the phone or you’re not.”
“I think a key thing for people to realize about this law is that it is about saving lives,” she said. “So, it’s about saving your life. It’s about making sure that you don’t take someone else’s life. It really is a small inconvenience to take.”
Nearby Maryland and Washington D.C. already have already enacted similar laws, so lawmakers believe the transition should be relatively pain-free, particularly for commuters traveling between Virginia, DC, and Maryland.